C3 provides a great opportunity to develop dialogue between media scholars and media professionals, something that has thrived in face-to-face meetings at MIT and elsewhere. While this blog seems not to have generated much dialogue and interaction across this divide (at least that I've seen), I offer the following commentary (both here and cross-posted on the newsletter) to provoke discussion, as it's a topic that needs input from multiple sides, and thus I encourage feedback and commentary to flow from these thoughts.
If there is one issue where I feel the perspectives of academic researchers and educators greatly diverge with the interests and policies of the media industries (at least as publicly stated), it is copyright. The media industries have been aggressively framing their copyrights as owned property, demanding control over all uses and successfully lobbying for legislation to protect ownership rights over all others. Media scholars are typically both copyright holders and active users of copywritten materials, so we can (ideally) see the perspectives of both creators and users - I certainly want to protect some rights to my writings, ensuring proper credit and (modest) compensation for using my work. But I am a dependent practitioner of fair use, the right to use copywritten material without permission for certain purposes such as criticism, parody, and education. Without fair use, I could not quote a book in my own research, show a clip from a television show in class, or assign students to make parodies of movie trailers, all practices that I see as integral parts of my role as a media scholar.
Traditionally, courts have protected such fair use rights over industry objections, but Congress managed to legislate around these rights in 1998 with the DMCA - this act mandated that users could not legally circumvent copy protections (like the DRM system on all commercial DVDs), even if the purpose was protected by fair use. As the film and television industries have switched to DVD as their only format, consumers were denied our fair use rights to make clips for educational use, backup discs in a personal collection, and create parody videos, escalating the hostility between media users and owners. As an educator, this restriction effectively says I can only teach material following the limits dictated by DVD technology. Thankfully, the U.S. Copyright Office last week issued a ruling (which I blogged about) allowing film & media faculty to override DVD protections to make in-class clips - a great allowance, but still one much more limited than fair use.
It has always struck me as exceedingly short-sighted for the industry to push for such clamping down of educational fair use, as media educators train the next generation of filmmakers, television programmers, advertising executives, and (most importantly) media consumers. Why would the industry want to restrict educational practices that primarily teach students how to consume and create the very products that they wish to sell? I see two potential explanations: the more distressing explanation is that the industry's lawyers & owners believe that copywritten material is truly property that must be protected from all non-paying intruders, controlled at every turn, and consumers abilities to assert control of any potential uses is merely an inconvenience to be overcome via legislation, DRM, or litigious intimidation. The more generous explanation is that the industry recognizes that many uses promote consumer engagement, education, and investment, but that they see the danger of circumvention software as too powerful to allow it to be legitimized no matter the use. The industry actively argued against the request made on behalf of film professors to be able to clip DVDs, so clearly nobody is unaware of the potential benefits and legitimacy of such usage - but I'm not sure if it's a case of paranoid protectionism or fear of a slippery slope.
So I turn the question to our industry partners in C3 - your participation in this group suggests that you recognize the ways that media scholars and producers can cooperate and work toward common goals. We preach the power of active audiences and participatory culture, practices that depend on fair use and productive consumers. So how do you view fair use within your business models? Do the strategies of lobbying and litigation pursued at the top of your industries represent more broadly held attitudes toward copyright, or is there dissent and diversity of opinions within the media industries that do not come to light in a public forum? Do you see strategies by which media educators can better make the case for the importance of fair use not only to our own efforts, but to fuel media consumption, audience engagement, and the education of future creators? I would like to see our partnership generate productive and innovative solutions to these problems and I look forward to hearing any thoughts you might have.